HollywoodGolightly

"The House on Telegraph Hill" (1951)

12 posts in this topic

Just watched this terrific 1951 film from director Robert Wise, with a terrific lead performance by Valentina Cortese.

 

This movie is available on DVD from the Fox Noir Collection, but Eddie Muller says right there on the audio commentary that it might be more accurate to consider The House on Telegraph Hill a "strange hybrid" - part noir, part "woman in distress" picture.

 

housetelegraphTC.jpg

 

Cortese (billed here as Cortesa) plays a Polish woman who survives WW2 only to assume the identity of a woman who died in the same concentration camp where they met; after the war she makes her way to America to lay claim to her son and their family fortune.

 

Richard Basehart is Alan Spender, the man who has been appointed guardian of the little boy and also happens to fall in love with her; it is not long before Cortese has become Mrs. Spender and the two are happy living in the title residence, with a picturesque view of San Francisco and the Bay.

 

The boy's caretaker, Margaret (Fay Baker), will soon play a major role in the plot, as will the handsome San Francisco playboy Marc Bennett (William Lundigan), who just happened to be the first American to interview Cortese after rescuing her from the WW2 concentration camp.

 

The_House_on_Telegraph_Hill_02.jpg

 

Though presumably not filmed completely on location in San Francisco, there is nonetheless enough footage filmed there to give it an authentic flavor, and the eerie atmosphere that permeates the house almost since Cortese moves in is genuinely frightening, given the secrets that will eventually be revealed.

 

Lucien Ballard's crisp black-and-white cinematography and Sol Kaplan's score are first-rate, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've just been listening to the audio commentary on the Telegraph Hill DVD by Eddie Muller. Quite an interesting track.

 

As I'd mentioned earlier, he wasn't sure this movie is "straight-up" noir, but rather a hybrid, including many of the elements of the "woman in distress" genre.

 

Another interesting tidbit is that the famous house that is shown in the movie doesn't really exist - it never did. It was all done via special effects, because there is in fact no place where a house could be and have such gorgeous views of the whole SF Bay.

 

Many actors were considered for the part that eventually went to Richard Basehart, including Dana Andrews and Richard Widmark. For the role of Margaret, Robert Wise originally wanted Audrey Totter.

 

Also, Basehart's character _always_ wears a vest throughout the whole movie, because the wardrobe department told Wise that San Francisco men almost always wear vests.

 

On a more personal note, Muller said Cortese is in part responsible for his life-long fascination with film noir, since he watched her in Thieves' Highway and this movie when they first came out, and they both made a pretty big impression on him. I think he said something that it was partly because both movies were set in San Francisco, and he's a native San Franciscan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Speaking of Valentina Cortese, who does such a spectacular job in The House on Telegraph Hill, she also appears in a movie that TCM is showing today at 8am ET as part of Audrey Hepburn day, called The Secret People.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"The House on Telegraph Hill" is one of my favorites and I agree Valentina Cortese does a spectacular job. She is so regal and graceful. I'm glad she was cast as the leading lady. I imagine that had it been a well-known movie star in the lead, it might have not worked as well as it did. I think Valentina adds realism to the film. Wonderful job.

 

Message was edited by: classicmoviedame

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's a good point, too, I didn't think about that before. Although the DVD audio commentary does go into a little bit of details about why Cortese had been cast.... but I won't post any spoilers!! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

it used to come on FMC quite a lot.

 

I purchased it during an awesome Amazon.com sale for $5.99 and this movie was great - very suspenseful. The house in the film was beautiful. I definitely had no idea what was going to happen! And Valentina was just as beautiful as she was in *Thieves' Highway*.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Count me in as a big fan of this film!

I love Valentina Cortesa's performance, and the gothic feel to this film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

By the way, does anyone here think that Cortesa seemed to play the role mostly with her eyes? Throughout the film, for the most part, her eyes seemed to speak to me more than her words did. That's a sign of exceptional acting.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, kjrwe said:

By the way, does anyone here think that Cortesa seemed to play the role mostly with her eyes? Throughout the film, for the most part, her eyes seemed to speak to me more than her words did. That's a sign of exceptional acting.

Yes, I agree....especially those scenes at the beginning where she's in a concentration camp.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us